One of the joys of a World Cup is it’s a lesson in keeping matters in perspective. For example, newspapers scream, “Today, inside your 16-page World Cup Pull-Out, a 64-Page Pull-Out on Luis Suarez! That’s two pages for each of his teeth!” The phone-ins are full of callers screaming, “There should be a rule that if you bite someone, the referee can set fire to you. They already carry a can of that foam for marking free kicks, so they could carry another one full of butane gas. One nibble and vroom, burned to a cinder.”
It’s almost certain that by the weekend Tony Blair will go on television to say “it’s essential that we carry out air strikes immediately for our own safety. If we don’t destroy him and every one of his supporters, we face the very real prospect of Al-Qa’ida taking over East Anglia and biting the whole of Norwich.”
There will be a statement from Isis warriors saying, “While we fully endorse the crushing of our enemies with an avalanche of mighty and holy unimaginable terror, we condemn as beyond all decency the awful behaviour of Mr Suarez in Uruguay’s final match in Group D.”
There’s already a campaign with a petition being circulated, demanding Suarez is banned for life, so maybe there’ll be a march, with demonstrators chanting “Stand up strong and fight like lions, no more bites from Uruguyans!” News channels may decide to copy sport programmes to increase interest in current affairs. So Newsnight will be presented by Gary Lineker, saying “First up we’ve got the eagerly awaited contest between the Syrian government and a team of rebels. Fascinating battle this, then later on we’ll be bringing you highlights of the crucial clash from Group C between Russia and the struggling but improving Ukraine”.
The people excusing Suarez are equally rational. Many Liverpool fans have expressed delight, because the incident makes it less likely he’ll be bought by a Spanish club so he’ll be free to bite people for them in the Premier League. He could have released a leopard that ate the entire Italian midfield, and some Liverpool fans would insist that “this proves he’s got a competitive edge”.
The Uruguyan president Jose Mujica defended Suarez by saying, “We didn’t pick him for his good manners,” as if the criticism him is snobbery because etiquette demands using the correct knife and fork for eating an Italian bloke’s shoulder.
A similarly healthy sense of perspective has been displayed by pundits and writers lamenting England’s performance. There are more callers to phone-ins, calmly making points such as, “I’m SICK of it Robbie, I’ve got mates who’ve SAWN OFF THEIR OWN HEADS because of how we defended at set-pieces Robbie, and to think it’s the 60th anniversary of D-Day. If our grandparents had known one day Glen Johnson would be out-jumped by Balotelli like that, they’d never have bothered.”
It’s said regularly now that England were “too naive”. Chris Waddle complained that English players don’t roll on the ground as much as other players, to convince the referee they’ve been fouled. One manager insisted England needed to learn how to get opponents sent off, by collapsing more easily by players already on a yellow card.
So instead of learning how to pass and trap a ball and cobblers like that, we need to teach kids how to roll further, maybe giving out prizes if one of them rolls right off the pitch and across the road into a branch of WH Smiths. If you were old-fashioned, you might suggest a change in the rules to stop this behaviour, so that when a player feigns injury, the other team should be allowed to inflict the amount of pain that was feigned. For example, if a striker crumples to the floor clutching his face and screaming because a defender passed nearby, the defender should then be allowed to hold the forward face down in a hive of wasps for a fortnight, or bring on a sniper as a substitute.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, because perspective with sport is an art. It has to be seen as critically important, worth staying up all night for and causing spectators to tremble and fight for breath and scream and ask themselves questions like, “Would I sacrifice a finger for a goal?” and not know the answer.
That’s why one of the disturbing aspects of this tournament is the way the cameras zoom in on a group of fans, who then stand cheering, smiling and waving when they see themselves on the screen. Even the Spanish fans did this, though they needed two goals in 10 minutes to avoid being knocked out.
This is a dreadful trend, implying that the occasion is a festival and the result doesn’t matter. Those Spaniards should have been in a stupor of devastation, staring blankly and not even noticing their image 50 feet high going out to a billion people, so they should be banned from stadiums for life.
For England supporters it should be easier to get this balance right, because unlike the Spanish, there’s been nothing disappointing about the English performance. Only when the nation has truly accepted the joy of where it now stands as a football power, which is that Costa Rica can relax and rest their players because they’re only playing the minnows from England, will the English be able to enjoy the World Cup properly.
Luis Suarez and other lengthy bans
Luis Suarez and other lengthy bans
1/11 Eric Cantona – nine months
Perhaps the most famous kung-fu kick of all time, and it didn’t occur in a karate ring. Instead, Selhurst Park was the venue. When Eric Cantona took offence to obscenities being shouted from an individual in the crowd – Mark Simmons – he launched an attack on him that a ninja would do well to better. He was rightly given a worldwide ban from football that lasted nine months, which must’ve felt like football maternity leave.
2/11 Mark Bosnich – nine months
The former Man United and Chelsea goalkeeper didn’t exactly receive kind words from Sir Alex Ferguson in the legendary manager’s recently released autobiography – and none of that had anything to do with his nine month ban for testing positive for cocaine.
3/11 Rio Ferdinand – eight months
Another Manchester United legend has spent a long spell on the sidelines, but this was slightly different circumstances. After failing to appear for a drugs test in September 2003, he was made an example of by the FA and missed eight months through suspension, including Euro 2004.
4/11 Tran Dinh Dong – 28 game ban
This Vietnam international has been given an unprecedented 28-game ban following a horror tackle that left the player on the receiving end with a broken leg. The Vietnam Football Federation have also forced him to pay Nguyen Anh Hung’s medical bills - but on a positive note, his fine only amounted to £567 pounds. The VFF are quoted as saying the ban is “a warning to all players across the nation”. They believe foul play has become “popular” in the V-League.
5/11 Luis Suarez – Nine games, four months
An unprecedented nine-match suspension plus a four-month ban from all football activity was handed to the striker by Fifa for biting Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay's 1-0 victory over Italy in the group stage. He will not be able to play again until 26 October.
6/11 Joey Barton – 12 games
Barton’s last appearance in England’s top division is possibly the most famous match ever played in the top flight. With QPR still not safe from relegation but leading at the Etihad 2-1 when City needed a result to win the title, the former Newcastle player was sent for an early bath after he elbowed Carlos Tevez. But as he left the field, he wanted to “take one of them with him”, as he once said, so he kneed Sergio Aguero and clashed with Vincent Kompany. Mario Balotelli tried wade in, it’s probably best for both parties that there was someone that to restrain them.
7/11 Paolo Di Canio – 11 games
Di Canio re-announced himself to the Premier League this term at north-east side Sunderland but it ultimately ended in tears after he was shown the door following a player revolt on Wearside. It’s not the first time he’s caused controversy, with his shove on Premier League Paul Alcock at Hillsborough during his Sheffield Wednesday’s one of the most famous meltdowns ever seen in England’s top division resulting in a hefty 11-game suspension.
8/11 Dave Prutton – 10 games
Judging by Prutton’s actions at St. Mary’s for Southampton in 2005, you could speculate he had a poster of Di Canio on his bedroom wall growing up. After being sent off for a tackle on Arsenal’s Robert Pires, Prutton went mad; he shoved referee Alan Wiley before heading for a confrontation with the linesman. He was rightly banned for 10 matches, and fined £6,000.
9/11 Luis Suarez – eight games, 10 games
Suarez makes the list again for these two incidents. Firstly, during a Premier League encounter with the Reds’ bitter rivals Man United, he was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and subsequently banned for eight games. He wasn’t quite satisfied with that, so decided to sink his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic in a league match with Chelsea during the culmination of last season. Despite receiving a 10-game ban that overlapped into this season, he’s still top of both the goal-scoring and assist-making charts.
10/11 Alan Pardew - seven matches
Pardew already been banned for two games for pushing a linesman, and was recently reminded of his responsibilities following a volley of abuse directed at Manuel Pellegrini. He has now been banned for seven matches for his butt on Hull's David Meyler, the first three being stadium bans.
11/11 Paul Ince – five game stadium ban
In the only incident that can be significantly compared to that of Pardew’s misconduct, Ince was given a five-game ban from all stadiums after he ‘violently shoved’ a fourth official following his former club Blackpool’s game against Championship newcomers Bournemouth. He also threatened to “knock him out” according to the FA.